Every city reimagines itself, but few shed skins faster than Amsterdam. While the Dutch capital used to be a byword for fast, louche fun — all hash cakes and beefcakes — it has worked hard to rebrand itself in recent years and reclaim its title as one of Europe’s powerhouse cultural epicenters. Even the old emblems of sleaze have morphed. The Blue Boy Club, once a buzzing male bordello, has been reborn as Joya, an urbane Asian restaurant that teasingly plays off the Club’s past, with double-entendre dishes like “heaven on your tongue” (that’s scallops and foie gras). The gentrifying Red Light District is now home to a growing constellation of galleries and serious kitchens. And De Pijp, Amsterdam’s longstanding boho answer to Greenpoint, is suddenly turning posh; the Pestana Amsterdam Riverside, the city’s first big hotel opening of 2018, dresses up a reclaimed corner of the neighborhood’s anchoring Amstel River.
All this means that the city once known for bachelor parties gone wrong is now genteel enough for a downright classy, and very romantic, honeymoon. Where to start? The best place is the city’s western arc of canals, a sustained landscape of gabled, 17th- and 18th-century townhouses overlooking bow-backed bridges and flower shops. Gaze up and you’ll see the austere brick facades giving way to an army of stone gods, saints, and roof-adorning cherubs. The city’s luxe pivot has meant a surge of high-end hotels in the neighborhood, and though you’ll have a tough time choosing, the only real decision is selecting between the canal-side properties. The Andaz is a running showroom of Marcel Wanders’s playful (aka manic) interiors, the Pulitzer has undergone a recent top-to-bottom renovation, and the refurbished Ambassade, complete with a library bar, still offers the best view down the Herengracht. But it’s the big-splurge, canal-side Dylan, sitting in a prime historic landmark, that is basically a honeymoon in itself. While the hotel keeps opening sleek new rooms, the best ones are the beamed loft suites, located above the hotel’s Michelin-starred Vinkeles Restaurant. If you really want to pump up the romance, you can book a combination dinner and canal tour on the hotel’s private boat.
Or, instead, head out to one of the city’s fresh wave of serious restaurants, the sign of a culinary renaissance that includes the Rijks, known for locally sourced takes on global dishes, like a langoustine bathed in oyster cream. Alternatively, a ferry to the newly developed northern district will bring you to the revolving Moon restaurant, perched on the 19th floor of the A’DAM Tower. It boasts the best aerial shot you’ll find of the city.
Round out your stay with a visit to the city’s Museumplein, where all three of Amsterdam’s world-class museums have finally completed their massive, multi-million dollar renovations.
The Stedelijk is a showcase for contemporary art and the Van Gogh Museum features the finest curated collection of the artist’s work. But it is the airy redesigned Rijksmuseum — where all the Rembrandts, Vermeers, and Dutch Master canvases echo the gleaming cityscape outside — that offers the best proof of Amsterdam’s second Golden Age. — Raphael Kadushin
Forever the appetizer to the Cyclades’ main-course beach offerings, Athens started to come into its own when the 2004 Olympic Games prompted the laying down of some much-needed infrastructure. While there have been some ups and downs along the way (particularly, a major financial crisis), the city is angling to come back with a vengeance in an attempt to garner your vacation dollars for a few days longer. Shack up at AthensWas or Fresh Hotel, tour the heady mix of the very old and delightfully new, then day-hop down to one of the nearby beaches such as Asteras Glyfada or the quieter Skalakia Agias Marinas.
Beverly Hills may be the neighborhood most often associated with Hollywood’s glitz, but nothing feels more classically SoCal than the palm-lined streets of Santa Monica. And if, like Sheryl Crow, all you wanna do is have some fun, look no further than the Fairmont Miramar, spread across a full city block at the corners of Ocean Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard. The perfect start to a romantic holiday begins under the property’s prominent fig tree — so large that the circular driveway curls around it. Inside, rooms rise up through two stout towers — the one with retro-deco styling has enviable sunset views — but we prefer the scatter of garden bungalows out back, constructed to feel like private casitas just steps away from the inviting pool.
At 5 p.m., Fig, the Fairmont’s aptly named restaurant, offers half-priced menu items. Indulge in their signature bread balloon complete with Lebanese dips or the hand-selected cheeseboard from the resident fromagier. Then, head for drinks at Bungalow — also on site — where the throwback California surf vibe is perfectly articulated through estate-sale knickknacks, taxidermy, and woven ponchos.
Street-side al fresco dining is a must when the weather is perennially pleasing; try Aussie import Little Ruby for savory egg-topped burgers and creamy flat whites. Mealtime gets turned into a memorable event at Dialogue, hidden speakeasy-style in a food court’s service closet along the Third Street Promenade. James Beard award-winner chef Dave Beran and his small-but-fierce army of sous-chef soldiers launch a staggered, two-seating culinary parade of 20 courses each evening that’s designed to play not only with tastes and textures, but bring emotion and wonder to the experience. The dialogue is meant to be between the diners and kitchen staff — separated by only a low-lying band of glass — as they prepare each thought-provoking bite inspired by art, sense memory, and the changing of the seasons (well, the seasons in other American cities). The menu changes every 12 weeks, taking on new inspiration and overarching themes, and, somehow, it’s all executed without pretension.
Long synonymous with #beachlife, Malibu is now the home of an especially compelling import — the ryokan. The art of Japanese hospitality is best encapsulated in the country’s traditional inns and their unwavering dedication to service. At the Nobu Ryokan Malibu, the white-with-blond-wood rooms are canvases on which a vacation dedicated to total relaxation is artfully painted.
At the other end of the newly completed metro line, worlds away from the parade of perfectly planted palms, is Downtown Los Angeles — a warren of brick-lined warehouses and sheer glass towers. Once an industrial zone strangled by arcing interstates, the area now offers one of the most fascinating examples of urban regeneration, and a promising antidote to the languid vacationland found in the city’s West End.
Photo courtesy of OUE Skyspace LA
A score of accommodation options have recently flung open their doors in Downtown L.A. — with a few more on the way this year. And while each is poised to become a flagship property and Left Coast ambassador of their brand, our pick is the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown, rising high above the the city’s tallest building. The hotel’s design draws its inspiration from Asia, where dozens of ultra-luxe stays are lofted at the top of commercial towers, their lobbies perched in the crow’s nest, with spacious rooms underneath. Furnishings are a nod to the East as well, with muted tones, natural materials, and a warm minimalism that will transport your senses to Japan.
Looking down from your room, it almost feels as though you’re peering out over the bustle of Bangkok or Manila — with the city’s gleaming lights flickering like the switchboard of an aircraft all the way to the horizon. Go up to Spire 73, the tallest open-air rooftop bar in America, and sip a kumquat-infused Old Fashioned among high-rollers in the steel-and-glass aerie above the sprawl.
Beyond hotels, Downtown L.A. is beefing up its commercial component too, led by Row DTLA. Reclaiming one of the last derelict quarters of the neighborhood, ROW is primed to become a patchwork quilt of cool by turning twice-abandoned factory floors into industrial-chic spaces inhabited by small batch cultivators. San Francisco’s much-lauded Tartine has plans to open an offshoot there; Virginia’s Rappahannock — the state’s choice oyster purveyor — will open a satellite space as well. Toss in coffee from Australia, a bar-top kaiseki from a young Japanese-American chef, a boutique of French-inspired curios, and startup-friendly working spaces, and you’ve got the micro-neighborhood of our dreams.
Of course, there are plenty of nuggets unaffiliated with the regenerative gravity of ROW or the InterContinental. In the more pedestrian-friendly part of the neighborhood, near Pershing Square and South Broadway, pause to lunch at The Mighty, where no-frills counter ordering lures the working crowd with a variety of recipes from the California kitchen — from sandwiches and homemade pastas to our pick, the Thai-inspired fried cauliflower with singed peanuts.
For dinner, try Inko Nito, an airy izakaya where fusion Japanese bar food is spun from a central robata hearth. Roasted sweet potato, a fall-off-the-bone hamachi kama, and open-faced nigaki sushi round off the list of favorites — they go down easy with an ume plum highball. And don’t skip the coconut soft serve for dessert; it’s an oddly satisfying umami bomb of salty-sweet flavors and silky-but-crunchy textures. The most unexpected find, however, is Lost Spirits Distillery — a stone’s throw from Row — where the chief distiller, the Willy Wonka of whiskey, has devised the most delightfully bizarre booze tour in a series of rickety warehouses. Drawing influences from Heart of Darkness, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and even a pinch of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the tour weaves the science of modernized hooch brewing into a sweeping narrative bolstered by robotic oddities won at auction from a bankrupt Rainforest Cafe.
Finish your DTLA foray on a high note at the OUE Skyspace LA, the city’s version of the top of the Empire State Building. With a spacious observation deck divvied up into different zones — where you’ll find an interactive space dedicated to the Gilded Age of Hollywood and a hair-raising see-through slide tube that projects from the side of the building more than 1,000 feet above the ground — it’s a dynamic experience. Putting the “high” in high-end dining, its restaurant 71Above was built for special occasions with customizable three-course menus featuring excellent takes on oysters, dry-aged steak, and rich chocolate ganache.
panama city is much more than the gatekeeper of the world’s most important shipping artery, the Panama Canal — it’s also a cosmopolitan nexus populated by the descendants of the international workers and merchants, from France to China, lured to the area long ago by the promise of opportunity. And their heritage has had a lasting impact on the city’s style, vibe, and flavors.
Originally settled by Spanish conquistadors in search of kingdoms of gold and everlasting youth, the city’s skeleton still has a cobblestone core — Casco Viejo. In recent years, the area was overrun with slums and gangs, but gentrification has turned the community into its own version of Puerto Rico’s Old San Juan, with brightly colored facades guiding the way between cathedrals and tree-shaded squares.
The American Trade Hotel, run by the Ace Hotel Group, acts as a beacon for U.S. visitors and the city’s local elite. And although the rooms are fairly generic, its public spaces have an undeniable Havana-chic appeal; you’d half expect to find Hemingway in a dark corner puffing on a cigar.
Up the block, where the paved cobblestones give way to ricketier side alleys, is the brand-new La Concordia, a boutique hotel owned and operated by a fun-loving Spanish family with a disciplined approach to service on the inside and a free-swinging approach to nightlife on the roof. Across the street is Donde Jose, a three-table dinner venue where owner Jose educates customers on the expansive definition of Panamanian cuisine with his prix fixe experiments. During the day, you can find him at his hole-in-the-wall (fonda) lunch joint, Lo Que Hay, where delicious workaday recipes are slung cafeteria-style to locals.
Beyond the dense colonial core, the rest of Panama’s capital is a labyrinth of commercial and residential towers that push against the encroaching jungle. The thriving fish market, Mercado de Mariscos, offers an unpolished glimpse of the city’s inner workings, and it’s a great place to grab a dollar cup of ceviche served unceremoniously in Styrofoam. The Gehry-designed Biomuseo looks like a miniature, primary-colored version of his museum in Bilbao, Spain, and helps illuminate the natural history of the land that rings around Panama City like a verdant halo.
Once you’ve checked off all of Pan City’s to-dos, base yourself at the stately Bristol Panama and enlist the help of Namu Travel to tackle day trips to the San Blas Islands, into the cloud forests of Gamboa’s Pipeline Road, and to the Embera Indian Village inside Chagres National Park. Or follow the Panama Canal through the country’s interior lagoons and end up in the warm Caribbean waters.
In central Chile, it’s as though the entire coast of California has been crunched down into one small, easily navigable region with capital-city Santiago as its central hub — a roaring metropolis that swooshes below the Andes with its sine wave of corporate spiresand low-slung garden neighborhoods.
If Santiago is Chile’s Los Angeles, then Valparaíso is its San Francisco; its bay-adjacent positioning meets a vertically tinged city plan that’s reminiscent of Chutes and Ladders. It’s an easy day trip from the capital, but if your cool-hunting down graffitied alleyways goes on well into the evening, you’ll find plenty of charming manses in which to hang your hat in town.
The third city in Central Chile’s trifecta is Viña del Mar, which leverages its seaside appeal much like San Diego. And then there are the surrounding vineyards, famous worldwide for their proprietary bottles of pucker-y Carménère. A visit to Concha Y Toro, the authority on Chilean wine, is not only a great way to get schooled in local viniculture, but an elegant escape from the tri-city area where you can explore the grounds of the rambling hacienda, glass of red in hand.
Though you may be inclined to choose Maui or Kauai over Honolulu for a Hawaiian beach holiday, it’s worth putting the Aloha State’s capital at the top of your list if you need more than just sand to fulfill your vacationing needs. The prospect of a trip to Waikiki elicited ebullient cheers from Wheel of Fortune contestants in the 1980s, and now the city is doubling down on that nostalgia factor by swapping tiki wood paneling for retro-cool digs.
Check out the Surfjack and the Laylow, newly revamped architectural relics that are giving Palm Springs’ hangouts a run for their money when it comes to Midcentury Modern charm. After relaxing day trips up to Oahu’s quieter North Coast, return to the city for dinner at Roy’s Hawaii Kai, or one of the spots along King Street that have helped distinguish New Hawaiian cuisine from other dining experiences along the Pacific Rim.